The Waikato's five emergency departments are bracing themselves for the Christmas rush by urging non-urgent patients to get treated early.
The Christmas holiday is an increasingly busy period for the 10 emergency departments covering most of the central North Island which can be stretched dealing with patients who need serious and urgent medical help.
The Waikato District Health Board, in partnership with the Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Tairawhiti and Taranaki DHBs, has launched a campaign targeting 677,000 patients urging them to visit their GPs before Christmas to top up prescriptions or be treated for minor illnesses such as coughs or colds or long-term illnesses so they don't clog up the emergency departments.
Thames Hospital clinical director Dr Ruth Large said the hospital dealt with more than double the number of patients during the first three days of January compared with an average week. Most patients were people holidaying in the Coromandel and from out of town.
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She said the summer period was getting steadily busier each year and most injuries being treated were unnecessary accidents.
"People unprepared for normal activities - people hiking and doing silly things, or who have taken too much alcohol and think they are superhuman and jump off things they normally wouldn't jump off, and people who don't wear lifejackets on the water."
Tauranga and Rotorua Hospitals also count New Year's Day among their busiest of the year and extra staff are rostered on during that time. Waikato Hospital is the main provider for people with more serious conditions such as heart attacks, drownings, burns or injuries from serious car accidents.
Dr Large said while GPs were often closed during the public holiday, there was always a doctor on call to help.
"The problem with people coming in for their prescriptions, is it takes away from patients having a heart attack, or who have crashed their car or have a dislocated shoulder."
Waikato Hospital emergency department clinical director Dr John Bonning said it was frustrating for staff when patients didn't plan ahead for their medical problems and he wanted to make sure they knew they had other options before they visited the emergency department.
"The emergency department can be unbelievably busy and there's not as much infrastructure available to us around the hospital."